Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory revealed for the first time what Europa’s glow could look like, and what it might reveal about the composition of ice on its surface. Put simply, various salty compounds react differently to the radiation and emit their own unique glimmer. Without at telescope, this glow would look sometimes slightly green, slightly blue or white and with varying degrees of brightness, depending on what material it is. Read more for a video and additional information.
The research team used a spectrometer to separate the light into wavelengths and connect the distinct “signatures,” or spectra, to different compositions of ice. What they discovered was that incorporating those salts – sulfate (Epsom salt) and sodium chloride (table salt) – into water ice under Europa-like conditions and blasting it with radiation produces a glow.
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We were able to predict that this nightside ice glow could provide additional information on Europa’s surface composition. How that composition varies could give us clues about whether Europa harbors conditions suitable for life,” said JPL’s Murthy Gudipati, lead author of the work published Nov. 9 in Nature Astronomy.